Finding Ayurveda at the Farmer's Market
This resource from USDA will help you find a farmers market in your area.
Spring is finally upon us and I personally could not be happier! As a foodie who has previously only lived in warm climates with year-round growing seasons, the idea of four distinct seasons is still a concept that I haven’t quite gotten used to. I’m working on it. But it’s moments like these, at my local farmers market, under a clear blue sky on a sunny day, that I can come to appreciate the cycles of growth, death, and rebirth that this climate provides. I can even get excited about them! It is simply beautiful in the spring, with the new blossoms and light rains.
Going to your local market instead of a grocery store this time of year isn’t only fun, but it’s healthy as well. The ancient science of Ayurveda teaches us that eating fresh, seasonal, and locally grown foods are a big step toward a healthy and happy mind and body!
The first step to understanding the lure of farmers markets is bringing awareness to our current food choices. Do we eat locally? Food that is fresh and grown locally is also vibrant and alive. We are so used to having whatever we want to eat, whenever we want to eat it with very little effort. This is a very new occurrence in the human evolution timeline, and it may not be doing us any favors in regards to our digestion or health. If we want bananas in December, we have access to them, even if they aggravate our already sluggish winter digestion. If we want apples, but we live in the tropics, no problem, drive over to the store! Not to mention the packaged, ready-to-eat foods, created mostly from highly processed and modified corn, soy, and wheat. These foods aren’t only hard for us to digest, but hold little to no nutrient value.
Our food distribution system in the U.S. allows us to eat things that are nowhere near local or in season. Once picked, most fruit or vegetables lose their life force energy within days to a week, so in many cases, mass cultivated food is harvested green and forced to ripen early. In the case of conventional bananas, there are twenty or so chemicals used in their production. Many are pumped into their holding container to force ripen them, kill bugs, and even make them yellower during transport!1, 2
Food is also flown across the world to get to you, becoming something impersonal, rushed, and instantly gratifying. Meanwhile, back on the ground, if you are in a part of the world with distinct seasons, your local food selection might not necessarily be what you thought you wanted. It is, however, a vibrant, ever-changing, colorful buffet that is delicious, and may be just what your body needs!
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine recommends eating foods that are fresh and in season. Our bodies simply work better when we eat what is growing around us at any given time. In nature’s infinite wisdom, each season produces foods that help balance our doshas and strengthen the system for the upcoming months. Who are we to override that? Here are several reasons why eating locally makes sense:
Environmental Peace of Mind
Eating seasonally and locally is one of the most impactful things we can do for the environment. In bypassing long-distance transportation to stores, we avoid contributing to the carbon footprint, and using all the energy, oil, and packaging that’s involved in shipping produce from say, Mexico or Ecuador to Maine. Instead, we ride our bikes to the farmers market and pick up radishes plucked from the ground a few hours earlier. This is a good feeling.
I think we can all agree it’s a lot more fun to hang out outside, than in a store! There are new sounds, colors, and textures, even smells that are pleasing and exciting to our senses. Who doesn’t love people watching and eating fresh berries in the street? Ayurveda also tells us that food has life force energy or prana flowing through it. There is so much more prana in fresh greens just picked this morning by your farmer than packaged iceberg lettuce from thousands of miles away.
This not only noticeably bolsters immunity and energy levels, but it creates more of a connection to our food. Eating locally fosters a deeper understanding of the world around us, and gratitude for the careful process the vegetables took to get from seed to your plate. Everything about the process, including our digestion, is more mindful. Suddenly, we go from being passive food consumers to willing participants in the local food ecosystem.
A Local Diet Can Fortify the System Against Allergens
Health is wealth, and Ayurveda says that anything around us can be used as medicine. Local bees can provide you with some of the best healing products available—pollen, beeswax, propolis, and honey! The liquid gold of local honey can provide better relief for local, seasonal hay fever, pollen allergies, stuffy heads, and sneezing than just about anything else. Also, there are tons of healing microbes found in your local soil. These microbes in the soil have been shown to bolster resistance to illness and improve mood.3, 4 Some people are incredibly sensitive and allergic to chemicals used in conventional agriculture, which end up in the soil and on the produce. Small family farms typically grow organically so you don’t need to worry about pesticides, GMOs, or fertilizers. And they will usually be very vocal about it too, so you will know if they do grow organic.
Exhale. Thank you, farmers!
Face to Face Farmer Time
Speaking of our farmers, there is such a peace of mind in knowing the names of the people who grow your food. These wonderful women and men give their lives to growing food to nourish us, in a system that has been dominated by impersonal mono-cropping for years.
I always feel so happy when my pepper farmer remembers how much I love his shishintos and lets me know when they will be ready. And when the cheese maker knows I am lactose intolerant so he only offers me the goat cheese samples. Farmers make great friends!
Supports Digestion and Seasonal Transition
Like I mentioned before, there is a huge digestive benefit in the selection of seasonal food. Nature has a plan. For example, spring greens, which are bitter and a little pungent, come into season right around the time we are needing to balance kapha and clean out the heaviness from winter and early spring. Pitta-pacifying fruits and watery veggies are there for us during the height of the hottest months. And then squash and root veggies come available right when our vata is getting thrown off by autumn’s blustery winds and we need grounding. Perfect timing, nature!
Discover Something New
Variety is also a famers market perk. For example, in the Peruvian Andes there are over 1,000 different types of potatoes. Meanwhile, in the Lima food markets, there are 5.5 It is the same here on the mainland US with everything from the one and only available variety of banana, Cavendish, to Hass avocados, it becomes so boring. In Hawaii there are around 50 types of delicious avocados available, while you will only find maybe 3 in your supermarkets. When we begin to look at our local farms and see what is being grown, we’ll often find many local hybrid and heirloom varieties that we have never heard of, and they also happen to taste delicious. Purchasing these heirloom varieties supports farmers who are preserving the seeds for future generations, like a seed trust, and what a better inheritance than delicious and varied produce? The most optimal Ayurvedic diet is one that is plant based, and includes a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Markets give this to us in spades. This resource from USDA will help you find a farmers market in your area.
Spring is the season to lighten up. So knowing this, when I go out to the markets I look for kapha reducing foods that are bitter, pungent, astringent, and sometimes heating—like dandelion greens, ginger, leeks, sprouts, and raw honey. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in a sweets and chai pattern for quite a while now. As winter eases its grip, we find the spring farmers markets reminding us to eat our greens. Arugula, Bibb lettuce, butter lettuce, mache, and mesclun are available and thrive in the cooler weather of spring and fall. Ayurveda tells us now is the perfect time to let go of all we accumulate during the winter, to allow room in our lives for the transition into summer. This is the gentle awareness of working with nature and not against it.
What foods are available in your area you ask? Well….
This great Seasonal Food guide will give you an idea of what is in season near you.
In the Northern hemisphere at this time of year, dandelion greens, kale, spinach, green onions, leeks, fennel, nettles, and asparagus are ready, not to mention the strawberries and pea shoots. This makes an amazing salad, especially when fresh, local, crumbled goats cheese is added. One of my very favorite recipes using early spring farmers market ingredients are “flower salads.”
|Spring Flower Salad|
VP balance / K-
|Light Spring Vinaigrette:
|Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a jar and shake until blended.
Combine greens, ½ of the cheese, seeds or walnuts, berries, and sprouts. Lightly toss. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and vinaigrette. Dress with edible flowers and enjoy!
So there we are. Explore your local famers markets in the spring and discover how well the available foods complement an Ayurvedic lifestyle. Learning how nature provides produce to balance your doshas and ease seasonal transitions is very exciting! Of course, market shopping will depend on your location and what the growing seasons are like. You may even have to travel a little further to get to a great market, but your body will thank you. Having readily available markets is becoming more common in every part of the country. If markets aren’t in your area though, you can decide to eat as seasonally and locally as possible from stores, and still reap the benefits. Just check out your local health food store and ask your produce specialist, “What is in season?”